What Are Gross Motor Skills? – What You Need To Know

What Are Gross Motor Skills? – What You Need To Know

Gross motor skills are the abilities usually acquired during childhood as part of a child’s motor learning. By the time they reach two years of age, almost all children are able to stand up, walk and run, walk upstairs, etc. These skills are built upon, improved, and better controlled throughout early childhood, and continue in refinement throughout most of the individual’s years of development into adulthood. These gross movements come from large muscle groups and whole-body movement. These skills develop in a head-to-toe order. The children will typically learn head control, trunk stability, and then standing up and walking. It is shown that children exposed to outdoor playtime activities will develop better gross motor skills.

What Are Gross Motor Skills?/As your baby grows and starts to investigate their surroundings, they develop new skills. Gross motor skills are one set of skills they’ll add to their repertoire of tricks right from the start.

Let’s take a look at some of those skills, as well as what to do if you suspect something might not be quite right.

What it means when we talk about gross motor skills

Gross motor skills are those skills that involve the whole body — your core muscles (think belly and back) and the muscles of your arms and legs.

Gross motor skills include skills such as:

  • sitting
  • standing
  • walking
  • running
  • jumping
  • lifting (a spoon, a hairbrush, a barbell — they all count)
  • kicking

Yup, these are actually skills.

And then there are the skills that need, well, a little more skill:

  • riding a bike or a horse
  • playing sports like football or baseball
  • rollerblading
  • swimming

When your child uses their gross motor skills, they’re also working on balance, coordination, hand-eye coordination, and strengthening the neural pathways in their brain.

Gross motor vs. fine motor skills

You’ve heard mothers at the park tossing these terms around with the same nonchalance they use to toss a ball. So what’s the difference?

While gross motor skills involve the bigger muscles, fine motor skills work the smaller muscles of the hands, fingers, and wrists. Fine motor skills are about dexterity.

Here’s an example, taken from the previous section: Your child uses gross motor skills to lift a hairbrush — but fine motor skills to grasp it in their hands in the first place.

Your child needs fine motor skills to do finicky things such as:

  • holding a pencil or scissors
  • writing
  • cutting
  • threading beads
  • playing with Legos
  • buttoning up their coat

The better their fine motor skills are, the easier they’ll find tasks like drawing and the faster they’ll be able to do them.

But appropriately developed gross motor skills can help your child build their fine motor skills. Knowing how to sit will give your child the ability to be at a desk and practice controlling the movements in their shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers.

Gross motor skills at different ages

Your newborn has a ways to go before they’re crawling. Your toddler has a ways to go before they’re playing baseball. So what are the age-appropriate gross motor skills to look out for at each stage?

0–3 months

  • As your baby’s startle reflex fades, you’ll notice that their movements become more voluntary and controlled. With their developing hand-eye coordination, your baby will be able to bat at brightly colored toys.
  • When you place your baby on their stomach (you’ll want to schedule plenty of tummy time into their day), you’ll notice them lift their head and chest.

3–6 months

  • At this age, babies start to move. Typically, they’ll start to roll from their back to their side. And then they’ll start to roll all the way over — first from their belly to their back and later from their back to their belly.
  • Hold your baby’s hands when they’re lying on their back and gently pull them into a sitting position. Notice that they can raise their head.

6–9 months

  • At first, your baby will sit with a little bit of help from you. Then, they’ll be able to sit as long as they’re leaning on their hands. And finally, when their back and abdominal muscles get stronger, they’ll be able to sit alone.
  • As your baby becomes more mobile, they’ll start sliding around on their tummy to explore. Watch them rising up on their hands and knees to rock back and forth. And then, just when you’re least expecting it, they’ll start to crawl.

1 year

  • Each time your baby pulls themselves up to stand, they’re working out those leg muscles. Add to this a good dose of coordination and your baby will start taking a few tentative steps — as long as there’s something there to hold on to, like the coffee table or your pants.
  • Your baby has discovered that they can see what’s going on around them much better if they’re sitting up. Watch them sit up alone.

2 years

  • Your toddler can not only walk alone pretty well, but they’re also starting to run. Watch out, though — at this stage it’s still easy for them to fall.
  • Hold on to their hand tightly and your child will enjoy the challenge of walking up and down steps.
  • By this stage, your child can jump with both feet.

3 years

  • As your child’s leg muscles get stronger and their balance improves, they can stand on one foot for a few seconds at a time.
  • Peddling a tricycle requires hand-eye coordination and arm-leg coordination that they’re starting to get the hang of.
  • Your child is now able to enjoy playing on climbing frames at the park.
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4 years

  • Balancing on one foot is now a cinch, so your child begins to hop on one foot.
  • Ball games become more fun as your child can catch a ball — almost all of the time.

5 years

  • Get ready for games of jump rope now that your child can skip.
  • With well-developed gross motor skills, your child is ready to learn how to skate and swim.

What if your child has gross motor skill delays or difficulties?

Always remember that each child is absolutely unique — just like everyone else. Your unique child may not follow given guidelines and that’s perfectly OK. We all develop in sync with our own internal clock.

That said, here are some things that you may want to look out for:

  • Your child isn’t interested in the physical activities that their peers are happy doing. In fact, they even try to wiggle out of them.
  • Your child goofs up tasks on purpose to mask that they’re having a hard time doing them.
  • Your child tells other kids how catch a ball, reach the top of a jungle gym, or skip — but they won’t take part in the game.

When should you contact your doctor about gross motor skill concerns?

If your child isn’t meeting many of the milestones above, you may want to reach out to your pediatrician for an evaluation. Very often, early intervention with a pediatric physical or occupational therapist can close the gaps you see.

Sometimes parents notice that their child has difficulty in many areas of physical activity. For example, if your little one is clumsy, has an unsteady gait that makes it hard to negotiate steps, and can’t manage to tie their shoes or complete arts-and-crafts projects.

When several signs come together, they may signal a condition known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD). Talk to your pediatrician if you have concerns.

  • Head position practice. Alternate the side that you position your baby’s head when you lay them down. Left one day; right the next day. This will encourage your baby to lift their head and to strengthen both sides of their neck.
  • Tummy time. Tummy time strengthens your baby’s neck and back muscles. Keep your baby interested by shaking a colorful toy in front of them.
  • Rattle tug. It’s never too early to start building those biceps. Put a rattle in your baby’s hand and tug gently.
  • Sitting your baby up. Prop your little one up to encourage them to develop the motor skills to sit independently. As they’re learning, offer a hand to keep them stable.
  • Sticky notes on the wall. Once your baby can pull themselves up to a wobbly stand, try putting Post-It notes on the wall just out of their sitting reach. They’ll delight in pulling themselves up to grab the notes and pull them off the wall.
  • Free movement. Once you’ve babyproofed and created a safe space for baby, spending less time with them in bouncers and jumpers and more time encouraging them to move on their own is best. Try scattering favorite toys around a room and watch them crawl to their treasures.


  • Going for walks. It won’t be as fast as cruising in the stroller, but your new walker needs lots of opportunities to practice walking. Create a safe space in your home for this by childproofing and setting up a play pen. Allow your toddler lots of time to walk around when on a grassy lawn or at the park.
  • Sand play. It may look like child play, but as your child digs, scoops, pours, and sifts, they’re working on their gross motor skills.
  • Create obstacle courses. Set up (safe!) objects around a room so that your toddler needs to duck, crawl, sidestep, reach, pull themselves up and even move items to get from one side to the other.


Gross motor skills are mostly developed early and, as noted above, involve just the large muscle groups. Once your child has those skills in their repertoire, they can add other layers of skill like coordination, muscle development, posture, balance, and more.

Some examples of building upon their gross motor skills include:

  • hopscotch and skipping
  • trampoline jumping
  • swimming
  • playing musical instruments
The takeaway

Accompanying you child through their journey in life is one of the most satisfying things you’ll ever do.

When you watch your child pulling themselves up only to fall back onto that well-padded butt, you may not believe the adage that time flies. But it won’t be long and soon you’ll be eating popcorn on the sidelines while your superstar hits a home run.

Potty Training Tips: Supplies, Skills, and Secrets for Success

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The television ads of children proudly throwing their diapers in the trash make potty training look so easy. Parents with perfect hair and makeup and clean clothes stand by, smiling, as their cheerful toddler happily uses the toilet.

When it’s time to start potty training in real life, however, it might feel a bit messier (who are we kidding — a lot messier!) and less than picture-perfect.

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As you’re reading and researching, your head is probably already spinning with decisions like which potty training method to try — Three-day potty training? Schedule-based potty training? You might know that the average age of potty training is 27 months, but is your child ready?

While we can’t answer all these questions for you, we can give you some tips and advice, so that you’ll be better prepared to have a positive potty training experience with your child.

Before you begin potty training

Before throwing out all the diapers, there are a few things you can do to prepare for a smoother potty training process.

Ensure that your child is showing readiness signs. There is no “best” age for potty training.Instead, it’s important to look for signs that your child is developmentally ready. Indicators that your child might be ready to potty train include:

  • expressing an interest in the toilet
  • recognizing when their diaper is soiled
  • keeping their diaper dry for longer periods
  • physically being able to pull their own pants up and down

Talk it up! Make potty training sound exciting and talk about it frequently with your child. Provide examples of other kids you know who have potty trained or watch television shows that discuss the topic.

Show by example. Allow your child to follow you or a friend through the process of using the bathroom several times. Sometimes it is more effective for them to see a child close to their own age who is successfully using the potty.

Read potty books. Visit your local library or bookstore to pick up some fun children’s potty books. Let your child help choose.

Play pretend. Help your child to reenact the potty process with dolls or other toys. Talk about how happy the dolls are about going on the potty.

If you’re going to use rewards decide on the specific rewards. Ideas might include stickers on a chart, little toys, or fruit snacks.

You might also consider a special outing or more screen time, but parenting experts note rewards work best at this age if they’re immediate and used every time your child completes the desired behavior, say, sitting on the potty. Get your child excited about working towards these rewards and explain the exact system for earning them.

Stock up on potty training supplies. This can include a step stool, fun hand soap, and big kid underwear. Additional supplies that may come in handy include wet wipes, small toys and stickers for rewards, a portable potty for on the go, and Post-it notes for using on automatic flush toilets when you’re out.

Choose a potty type for your child. There are many options when it comes to child-friendly potties. Consider shopping for a standalone child-sized toilet or an insert ring for a standard toilet. Some parents offer both to their children. Keep in mind that portability is important once you’re out of the house, so consider at least introducing ways to use a standard-size toilet.

Introduce the potty in an unintimidating way. Allow the child to touch and sit on the potty without any expectations of actually using it. You may even want to start with a potty chair placed somewhere other than the bathroom.

Prepare for accidents. Make sure that you have sufficient wipes, paper towels, and cleaning sprays, and that you cover any furniture you don’t want to deal with cleaning later.

Make a schedule that’s potty-friendly. Build-in time for potty breaks during the day and ensure there is always a bathroom accessible nearby when out and about.

Tips for potty training

Once you’ve handled all the prep work, it’s actually time to start the potty training process. Here are a few tips that can help.

Consider nakedness. Don’t be afraid to let your child shed a few clothing items inside your house. (If nothing else, it’ll give you fewer pieces of clothing to have to wash if there’s an accident!)

Think about undies vs. pull-ups. This is a personal decision that depends on your child.

Wearing underwear will be very motivating for some children and can allow a child to be more aware when they are having an accident. However, it can be messy to go straight to underwear. Some children may also need a long time before they are dry at night.

Pull-up style training pants are great for avoiding accidents all over the furniture or bed; however, they can be less motivating and some children may be less aware of their body functions while using pull-ups.

Give plenty of opportunities. Make sure to offer the toilet to your child before and after meals, upon waking, and before heading out of the house. Paying attention to when they usually have to go can help you know when to encourage them to try.

Remember timing is everything. If potty training on a schedule or time-based system, use technology like timers and watches to make it fun and educational.

Use praise liberally. It works. Clapping, singing songs, and enthusiastically celebrating each win is the kind of encouragement that works for toddlers.

Have fun with reading time. Read books specifically set aside for potty time while your child is on the toilet. This will be a motivator to both want to use the potty and to stay on the potty as long as necessary.

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Give age-appropriate choices to your child. Would you like to potty before or after tooth brushing? Which underwear would you like to wear?

Being able to control some aspects of the process helps encourage them to be more invested in potty training.

Change it up! If you’re feeling frustrated, let another adult try to help for a bit. There’s no shame in asking your partner, a grandparent, or a day care provider for support.

Understand regressions can happen. Just keep trying… Just keep trying… Just keep trying…

Know it’s also okay to stop trying. If you or your child is getting really frustrated, it’s okay to just take a breather and try again later. You want this to be a positive experience for all involved.

You’ve got skills

To be fully potty trained, your child will need to master a lot of self-care skills.

It can be useful to focus on individual skills during the potty training process and praise for each skill your child is able to accomplish.

If you are using a potty training chart, you may want to offer an incentive for specific skills like remembering to wash hands or recognizing the need to go to the bathroom.

We’ve gathered together a list of a few necessary self-care skills that your child will need to master during the potty training process:

  • recognizing body signals that it’s time to go — and responding promptly
  • pulling pants up and down
  • sitting on the toilet
  • learning to aim — Cheerios in the toilet bowl make great targets for little boys!
  • wiping — an advanced skill!
  • flushing
  • hand washing

As far as that last key skill goes, remind your child to use warm water and soap, scrub hands together for at least 20 seconds or the length of “Happy Birthday to You,” and dry them thoroughly with a clean towel.

Accidents happen

Once you start potty training, it’s important not to have expectations of perfection right away. Potty training is a journey, and throughout the process, it’s important for you to focus on the good and avoid shaming. (Not only will this help your child but staying positive helps you, too.)

When accidents do happen, it’s important to think through what may have been the cause and how it can be addressed. For example, accidents happening in bed are normal, as potty training through the night may take much longer.

Allowing your child to wear a pull-up style disposable (or reusable!) training pant when they sleep may help them to get a better night’s sleep without worrying until they’re developmentally ready. You might also consider limiting liquids in the evening hours and ensuring they try to go to the bathroom right before bed.

If your child is having trouble pooping on the potty, it may be beneficial to find out if there are any fears involved. Many children benefit from talking through the process and alleviating their concerns.

Pay attention to when accidents occur and address underlying emotional issues or make changes to the routine based on this information. In this case, accidents might just lead to success with potty training!

It’s a process

Even after it appears your child is fully potty trained, accidents can still happen seemingly out of the blue. It’s important to acknowledge that accidents can happen to anyone and to try to avoid shame or guilt. Remember to praise and/or reward your child and yourself for all the progress they have made.

No matter the number of small setbacks, your child will eventually learn how to use the toilet. Every child has their own timeline. As you work towards consistent, 100 percent mastery, you may face new challenges.

Potty training outside the house is different than feeling comfortable at home:

  • Keep your Post-its at the ready to cover up the automatic flush features of the many public toilets you’ll visit.
  • Consider bringing along a portable potty seat for larger public toilets.
  • Keep up an open dialogue with your child to address their concerns and challenges with going to the potty outside the home.

The process of being potty trained is in many ways just as important as the final result. Potty training can be an opportunity to bond with your child and to witness their self-confidence grow.


Although potty training may not always look as simple as it does on television ads, it can be a positive experience for you and your child.

Just remember that every challenge is one step closer to success, test out some of the advice above, and before you know it, diapers will no longer be on the shopping list!


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